What is Fluorspar and Where Do I Use It?
- Fluorspar is the commercial name for the naturally occurring mineral fluorite, composed of calcium and fluorine (CaF2).
- Fluorspar is the predominant commercial source for the chemical element fluorine.
- Fluorine is a non-metallic element and the lightest of the halogens and therefore largely irreplaceable in its use.
- There are two principal commercial grades of fluorspar: Metallurgical grade (60-96% CaF2) and acid grade (+97% CaF2).
- Metallurgical grade fluorspar accounts for approximately 35-40% of total fluorspar production with the principal applications being:
- Steel production – used as a flux to lower the melting temperature and increase the chemical reactivity to help the absorption and removal of sulphur, phosphorus, carbon and other impurities in the slag
- Cement – used as a flux to speed up the calcination process and enables the kiln to operate at lower temperatures
- Acid grade fluorspar accounts for approximately 60-65% of total fluorspar production with the principal applications being:
- Aluminium production – used to produce aluminium fluoride (ALF3) which acts as a flux to lower the bath temperature in the manufacture of aluminium
- Manufacture of hydrofluoric acid (HF) – the primary source of all fluorochemicals (the single largest consumer of fluorspar), a wide range of applications include:
- Fluorocarbons e.g. refrigerant gases, propellants, etc
- Electrical and electronic appliances
- Lithium batteries
- Pharmaceuticals, polymers and agrochemicals
- Petrochemical catalysts
Where is Fluorspar Produced and Consumed?
- World production of fluorspar: 5.7Mt – 6.0Mt per year
- The major producing regions are:
- China (>50% of the world’s production)
- South Africa
- The major consuming regions are:
- North America
How much does it cost?
- Since the global financial crisis in 2009, there has been a contraction in acid-spar demand due to a combination of environmental legislation and demand - Fluorspar prices have followed such trend.
- Acid grade fluorspar has historically commanded the highest price however the price gap between this and metallurgical grade fluorspar has reduced recently.
- In 2017 prices for acid-spar have started to recover in China, export price for acid-spar (FOB China) – traditional benchmark price – is currently published as US$400-420/tonne.
- The equivalent price delivered into Europe (CIF Rotterdam), published as US$300-340/tonne, has started to recover following the FOB China price recovery.
Specific Issues for Fluorspar
- There are no net exporters of fluorspar in Europe and all EU Member States are reliant on imports.
- China produces >50% of the world’s fluorspar.
- Chinese fluorspar exports have continued to decline with acid-spar exports decreasing since 2011 – internal demand and production/export restrictions.
- China may become a net importer in the future.
- China listed fluorspar as a strategic mineral in 2017.
- USA considers fluorspar as a Strategic Mineral.
- North America and Europe are the largest acid-spar consumers outside China, all net importers – potential risk to long term security of supply.
- No large scale commercial alternative.
- Future demand for fluorspar will highly depend on the development and use of fluorocarbon substitutes.
- Industry view is that demand for acid-spar will increase by 4-5% per year over the next 5 years and prices are forecast to increase in the medium to long-term.